O. Theodor Benfey
The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
O. Theodor Benfey begins the interview with a description of his childhood in Germany during the rise of the Third Reich. He tells of his experiences in England, where he was a student during the war, and then his move to the United States for a postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University. He describes the development of his interest in physical organic chemistry and structure, and the history of chemistry, and recounts his career as a professor of chemistry and history of science at Haverford, Earlham, and Guilford Colleges. Benfey also tells of his parallel career as a writer, translator and editor and gives details of the various translations he has published, and recalls his term as editor of Chemistry magazine. He concludes with his memories of his studies in Japan and China and his current interests.
|1945||University College London||BSc||Chemistry|
|1947||University College London||PhD||Chemistry|
International Christian University
Chemical Heritage Foundation
University of Pennsylvania
Doan Distinguished Teacher Travel Award, Earlham College
Manufacturing Chemists Association Chemistry Teacher Award
|1967 to 1968||
Danforth Foundation E. Harris Harbison Award for Distinguished Teaching
|1970 to 1971||
Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research and Study Award, Kwansei Gakuin University, Nishinomiya, Japan
Table of Contents
Grows up as a Lutheran of Jewish ancestry in Germany during the rise of the Third Reich. Emigrates to England to live with the Mendl family and attend Watford Grammar School, while parents move to United States. Enjoys math classes, and interst in science develops.
Moves to Aberystwyth during war. Has some contact with Ingold during undergraduate years. Becomes a Quaker. Insists on conducting only non-war-related research as graduate student. Studies aliphatic substitution and solvent effects. Not encouraged to keep abreast of outside research.
Immigrates to United States, reunites with family. Studies mercury-catalyzed solvolysis and olefin formation. Considers switching to medicine.
Teaches physical organic chemistry mechanisms and chemistry for non-majors. Supervises undergraduate research. Receives Research Corporation grant for summer research. Publishes on history of chemistry. Active in Philadelphia Organic Chemists Club and Society for Social Responsibility in Science. Meets and marries Rachel Thomas.
Lives with parents in Cambridge. Works with Conant's group. Enjoys studying the lives and original works of great chemists. Works on translations. Teaches history and philosophy of science courses. Studies structural theory, and, with Westheimer, the bipyridyl problem.
Continues bipyridyl research. Works with Strong to develop new chemistry curriculum based on conceptual division and to create and publish Chemical Bond Approach materials. Edits Chemistry magazine. Continues publishing translations and history of chemistry. Becomes chair of HIST. Interest in geometry and structure increases. Professor of both chemistry and history of science.
Urged by Hobbs to join faculty. Educates many for industrial positions. Students able to cross-register with other Greensboro schools. Active interdepartmental faculty interaction. Dana Professor of Chemistry and History of Science.
Becomes interested in China and Japan while at Earlham. Studies Japanese and lives in Japan for a year to explore history of science in the Far East. Especially intrigued by uses of geometry in Eastern culture.
Retires early to devote time to other interests. Becomes Editor at the Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry. Moves to Bryn Gweled.
About the Interviewer
James J. Bohning was professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he had been a faculty member from 1959 to 1990. He served there as chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1986 and environmental science department chair from 1987 to 1990. Bohning was chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1986; he received the division’s Outstanding Paper Award in 1989 and presented more than forty papers at national meetings of the society. Bohning was on the advisory committee of the society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program from its inception in 1992 through 2001 and is currently a consultant to the committee. He developed the oral history program of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and he was CHF’s director of oral history from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Bohning was a science writer for the News Service group of the American Chemical Society. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society. Bohning passed away in September 2011.